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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

Introduction                           25
social agencies which have affected its growth or about circumstances
which have moulded its character in the course of history.
In short, we can stiffen self-confidence by recognizing at the
outset that the difficulties of learning a language, though real, are far
less than most of us usually suppose. One great obstacle to language-
learning is that usual methods of instruction take no account of the fact
that learning any language involves at least three kinds of skill as
different as arithmetic, algebra and geometry. One is learning to read
easily One is learning to express oneself in speech or in writing The
third is being able to follow the course of ordinary conversation among
people who use a language habitually. This distinction helps to resolve
some of the greatest difficulties which confront beginners. Whether it is
best to concentrate on one to the exclusion of others in the initial stages
of learning depends partly on the temperament of the beginner, partly
on how the foreign one resembles the home language, and partly on
the social circumstances which control opportunities for study or use
We can best see what these circumstances are, if we first get clear
about the separate problems which arise in reading, in self-expression,
and in oral recognition, about the several uses to which we can put
our knowledge of a language, and about the various opportunities for
getting practice in using it
Most educated people find that oral recognition of ordinary conversa-
tion is the last stage m mastering a language, and does not come unless
they have spent at least a few weeks or months in a country where it is
habitually spoken It then comes quickly to anyone who can read and
write it. The reason why it demands a skill quite different from the
skill of learning to read quickly or to write and to speak correctly, j,s
that no one pronounces distinctly the separate words of a sentence
as one writes it, and as a beginner or a child speaks it. In speaking,
people fuse one word with another, and blur syllables which form an
essential part of the visual picture of the individual word What we
recognize is not a succession of separate units, but a composite pattern
of which the character is partly determined by emphasis and rhythm
This difficulty does not arise in reading or writing a foreign language.
When we are learning to read or to write a language, we concentrate on
the individual words as separate visual symbols, and when we are
learning to speak, we concentrate our attention on the sound values
and stresses of each syllable So it is possible to detect the meaning or
to pronounce flawlessly the individual words of / am kind of fond of you
"baby without recognizing it when it impinges on the ear as ymkynna-